Young graduates face historic challenges
As Bloomberg recently cited, one-in-four 18- to 24-year-olds report “Feeling down, depressed, hopeless nearly every, more than half the days.”
Little research is available specifically for my cohort, recent graduates whose universities (facing challenges of their own) were more or less happy to cut them loose. This would have been a tough time for some of us, regardless, but we didn’t imagine this.
We graduated into a historically poor job market (proven to negatively affect mid-life salary) and suffer the anxiety that attends such a pivotal election season as this, which pits against one another two candidates who are both highly unpopular among the young. These conditions have persisted through the fall as we arrive at the cusp of what experts predict will be a “second surge” of the coronavirus pandemic that will, hopefully, precede the arrival of a viable vaccine. This is all to say: young people are deeply unhappy.
Many, having just left school, have also lost the safety-net of their university health services and the support they provide, as meager as it might have been. Cobbling together a new support system in circumstances like these is no simple task.
Many sectors with whom recent graduates would normally seek employment have instituted wide-scale hiring freezes that are expected to be in place until at least 2021. This is not to mention that the avenues of release typically available to young people have been radically curtailed by the demands of public safety and economic circumstance. I’ve begun to advocate among my circle the so-called “Norwegian mindset,” a kind of seasonal stoicism that begins and ends at wrapping yourself in blankets and drinking something hot.
A recent graduate myself, I thought I was ready for the workplace. As it turns out, it may not yet be ready for me.
Conservatively, I have applied to 70 jobs and internships with little to show for it but a handful of brief yet encouraging rejection notices, delivered with a polite, decidedly at-arm’s-length smile. Things will be better after the new year, they say.
I’m not so sure.
Another 2020 graduate (who also happens to be my cousin) holds a freshly minted degree in mechanical engineering and boasts a bevy of credentials from relevant coursework to internships in his field, but is similarly fruitless more than half a year into his search. Just so far on the day that I contacted him, he’d been to the driving range, lifted weights, and was planning for a few games of pre-dinner pickleball.
“Just gives me the illusion of productivity,” he wrote. “I’ve been losing my f*** mind.”
Merely agreeing in principle to a simple Zoom chat with a friend who was quarantining in his childhood bedroom — due to his COVID-positive father — granted me a saintly status. “Literally thank you for being the best,” he texted.
“All in a day’s work,” I replied. (I’ve never had to do less, these days, to land in someone’s good books).
At a loss for satisfaction in our day-to-day lives, we turn to music, television/film viewing, reading, and a slew of creative outlets like art, writing, or playing instruments. Once in a while, we can responsibly see friends.
What time we have left is spent online, funneling even more of our ample free time (and data) into apps like Twitter, TikTok and Instagram, where content that riffs humorously on mental illness, joblessness, and the frustration of living at home during a pandemic is very popular, garnering many favorites.
“she listens to your PODCAST but doesn’t know you have zero job PrOSPECTS”
4:36 PM · Oct 22, 2020
“Parents can spot a hickey but can’t spot depression”
2:02 PM · Oct 14, 2020
Because few of us received government stimulus checks, being dependents over the age of 16, any lingering funds from campus gigs is dwindling. A Senate bill designed to rectify this by providing families $500 for each dependent 17-and-up (titled the “All Dependents Count Act”), was introduced in May and promptly fell flat on its face in committee, from which we can only conclude that some dependents, actually, count less or not at all.
In response, we’ve scooped up whatever gigs we can: at socially distanced restaurants, in surf shops, and even as crewmembers on chartered ships.
Many traditional service jobs have evaporated as well. I’ve kept myself sporadically employed as an assistant to a photographer of interiors, relying on my parents for room and board but little else, while friends have been able to secure employment in babysitting/au pair-adjacent work or as contractors working inconsistent hours and for little pay, usually in roles irrelevant to their degree fields. One friend, an Ivy alumna seeking work in the film industry but currently employed as a chauffeur to a young equestrian, texted me from the resplendent acres of a private horse ranch:
“I am feeling the weight of capitalism [right now.]”
“Pet the horsie?” I responded (serotonin is at a premium these days for those of us without animals of our own).
“Yes.” She attached a photo of the horse, a rescued courser named Heracles (whose name has been changed). I later had the privilege of meeting Heracles, which I can say was without a doubt the most rewarding experience I’ve had in the last seven months.
One fellow graduate, a classically trained actor with an elderly father and whose industry has been irreparably damaged by the pandemic, leaves his house only to walk or get takeout from a local restaurant.
“My father is 80; I’ve watched 189 films since the start of quarantine; I didn’t leave my property at all for the first 100 or so days of the pandemic and, as such, my walks were relegated to walking circles around the perimeter of my house, but since then I’ve graduated to walking trails.”
My own father often tells me these days that I’ve been living my life in reverse: enjoying retirement now, pursuing leisure activities, while a life of work awaits. As eager as I am to find a “real” job, I find this thought disturbing and try not to dwell on it. With case numbers rising, I expect things to get much worse before they get better. But if a little sadness and boredom are all I have to cope with, my life is fine. And after all, maybe next week I’ll get an interview. Or a dog.
Or maybe I’ll just up my dose of Lexapro (thank God for Lexapro).
I kid. But seriously, folks, check on your young people. They are having a harder time than you might think.
Brendan Ruberry lives in Ridgefield.
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